Women led entrepreneurial ventures are becoming more common across the country. From home-made food and confectionary to art, jewelry, clothes and even hand-made shoes – women are slowly formalizing unpaid labour/passions/hobbies into formal business models. The result is a delightful profusion of quality products that are made ethically and don’t contribute to the toxic fast fashion/ fast food consumer culture.
Giant business conglomerates generally rule the roost when it comes to market shares. They dominate spaces with low priced, homogenous productions and while they’re great for the occasional splurge or so, industries are corroding not only the environment but our sense of humanity as well with terms such as ‘human capital’ being bandied about to reference the labour of the work-force.
So while we all secretly acknowledge that big companies that earn their top executives billions in salaries are perhaps not paragons of ethical work practices, it has been tough finding quality replacements from the products they offer. However, with social media digitizing the market place and bringing it into the virtual sphere, it has made room for small ventures to take on the hegemony of big brands.
Think of it as a modern day parable for the biblical tale of David vs. Goliath playing out in the commercial world, with countless women across the country, each playing David in her own story against capitalistic Goliaths.
This week we look at five diverse small businesses, each offering handmade products that are exclusive and unique. From Mochari shoes, led by a mother-daughters trio to Takhleeq jewellery, modern women’s wear by Colour Coded Crime, Odd and Eve, hand-painted footwear, and Honey, I’m Home candles, we highlight the hard-working women who are breaking glass ceilings.
Odd and Eve, an Instagram based venture run by Humda Qureshi (we brought the brand first to your attention in 2016) has grown exponentially since starting out four years ago. The brand, starting out with a few designs of hand-made, hand painted khussas and Peshawari chappals immediately caught our attention for the uniqueness of their product. 2016 was also the year our current premier brought the Peshawari chappal to fashion’s forefront again.
Qureshi’s iteration produced an entirely novel product; she reclaimed the masculine footwear for women and changed our perception of what a Peshawari chappal could look like by reimagining it in pastel shades with delightful florals or dazzling glitter. Qureshi has since grown her product list, adding Kohlapuri chappals, soft leather totes and a recent kids footwear line that is gender-neutral. Her Instagram page, through which she conducts most of her business, receiving and processing orders through private messages, is well curated and makes you want to own one of the bright, colourful shoes that are complimented each time you wear them.
Then there’s Takhleeq jewelry, another small business venture on Instagram that offers hand-made jewelry that Zamzam Pervaiz designs and produces herself. It isn’t haute jewelry made with sterling silver or plated in gold but it’s shaped personally for each customer. The designs speak to Pervaiz’ aesthetics; her recent collection was a feminist ode to breasts; render in line art, the collection featured several different shapes, sizes and types of breasts on earrings. Commercially viable in Pakistan? Not really, but highly appreciated by a niche market that would never find such novelty products in a mall.
Takhleeq also offers quirky handed painted earrings, sculpted chokers/necklaces and other line art inspired jewelry. Pervaiz’s sculpted faces collection is a another great example of the uniqueness of her product. When ordering rings and toe rings from the brand, Pervaiz shares a size chart with you to help you determine your ring size as some of the pieces are customized for individual fit.
World over, hand-crafted pieces are considered expensive luxuries that few can afford, however with Takhleeq you barely break a sweat when you look at the cost. Pervaiz prepares orders after processing them online and offers cash on delivery for orders under Rs. 5000. It must also be mentioned that Pervaiz is a young girl under the age of 25, which makes her solo venture that much more commendable.
Colour Coded Crime, a curiously named boutique by Mahrang Anwar is a young brand offering casual western apparel. The western apparel industry in Pakistan is a difficult world to break into while making a profit; the country’s conservative majority isn’t open to the idea of women in pants/shirts/jeans because of the inherent association with immodesty.
Major retail trends cater to commercially viable iterations of international trends, which leaves much to imagination, while couture houses can rarely sustain interest in western collections and thus tend to offer fusion pret. Small, local ventures like CCC fill the gap between demand and supply.
Anwar’s latest collection is a boxy, summer-y ode to women’s wear, featuring exaggerated sleeves, loose fits and eye-pleasing colour palettes that invoke softness and natural beauty. Like the other brands aforementioned, Anwar processes her orders through messages on her Instagram page, connecting with a discerning audience of young girls/women who prefer to not to buy mass produced fashion that is worn by women all over the world.
In the last few years, scented candles have become popularized in Pakistan (at least among the bourgeois) and its says something that the current brands in the market are all women led. From the Karachi Candle Company duo to Meem candles and the latest entrant in the market, Honey! I’m Home candles, all three ventures are run by women.
With Honey! I’m Home candles, Anna Bokhari guarantees that she uses 100% pure beeswax and soy wax – something that no other brand does in Pakistan because it is expensive and time-consuming during production. However, with pure beeswax and soy wax you get none of the toxic fumes from paraffin and a mother of two young children, Bokhari wanted to create a safe product that she could bring home. She also realized that she would have to offer a better quality product if she wanted to break in the market; there aren’t a lot of buyers and they’re used to particular price points.
With 16 different fragrances offering delicious pairings such Beach Walk Resort, which combines palm leaves, pink water lilies and coconut or Double Shot on Ice, an energizing coffee scent, there are a lot of options to choose from. Our favourite however is the rose and lychee scented candle that makes your house smell like summer.
Last but most certainly not the least is Mochari, another footwear brand that offers hand-made shoes and is run by sisters, Zara and Hina Fatima with the help of their mother. Operating out of a set-up off of Defence Road in Lahore, the brand started in 2014 and introduced its flagship store in Xinhua Mall a few years later.
The journey for Zara and Hina hasn’t been smooth sailing since inception, however the girls persevered through the tough initial year without marketing budgets, believing in their product and its celebration of local heritage.
What endears this brand to most to us is the hands-on shoe making process that we witnessed while visiting their head-quarters. In a small office that serves a shrine for shoes, sits Hina with her mother, who does the bead-work on each shoe herself. Yes, that’s correct, their mother does the meticulous detailing and that is by far the most wholesome story to a shoe you’ll ever own.
Their clients include celebrities like Hira Mani among other recognizable names. The brand introduces several different collections each season, featuring locally sourced prints, materials and textures with comfortable soles that offer functionality beyond fashion. Mochari also offers leather bags and androgynous briefcases that wouldn’t just appeal to women but also to more style-savant men.
The brand is planning on shifting their flagship store from inside a mall to a standalone store on the famous, perpetually buzzing M.M Alam road in Gulberg – we wish the brand even greater success in the future and hope to see international interest in the shoes (which already is considerable but limited to individuals) grow.
So the next time you want to splurge, ask yourselves whether you’d want to validate a David or a Goliath. Which of these small business will you support the next time you want to shop?